With the popularity of the '02 Dodge Ram, it seems only natural that DaimlerChrysler would also make a strong play for the burgeoning heavy-duty market with an all-new 2500 and 3500 Ram Heavy Duty.
"The heavy-duty truck market has grown 34 percent since 1996, with 1-ton (2500) and 3/4-ton (3500) trucks accounting for 31 percent of the large truck market. Ram 2500s and 3500s now account for a third of overall Ram sales, and with the '03 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500, we are poised to increase those numbers significantly," said Jim Julow, Vice President, Dodge Division.
Interestingly, the '03 3500 Ram will be available with a single rear- wheel option, so those who don't need - or don't want - the wide-track dual rear wheels can opt out. Julow also ran some sales numbers by us, and they were surprising. About 75 percent of its Ram 2500s and 3500s are diesel powered, and approximately 70 percent are 4x4 models.
A powerful engine is a hallmark of Dodge Heavy Duty trucks, and the '03 Ram HD is no exception. The base engine for the 2500 and 3500 series is the new 5.7L Hemi Magnum, which produces 345 hp at 5,600 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Dodge's popular Viper-like Magnum V-10 is back, using 8.0Ls to pump out 450 lb-ft or torque at 2,800 rpm.
The real power player is the next-generation Cummins Turbo Diesel, which churns out an amazing 555 lb-ft of torque and has a lifespan of 350,000 miles before requiring a rebuild.
As with the Ram 1500, the Ram Heavy Duty trucks uses framerails manufactured with a hydro-forming process, which uses pressurized liquid to shape the box-section side rails, eliminating the traditional welded box side rails, which is a time-consuming and expensive process. Although the 2WD 2500/3500 HD Rams use rack-and-pinion steering, the 4x4 models retain a recirculating ball steering design, albeit with a quick 13.4:1 ratio and special internal components designed to reduce gear friction.
There are two T-cases available on the Ram HD: a conventional manual-shift model and a new electric shift version. Both cases use a Low gear ratio of 2.72. Ram buyers also get to choose from a dizzying array of manual and automatic transmissions. There's a manual five-speed Overdrive with a 5.61 First gear (gas or diesel engines); a manual six-speed Overdrive with a 5.63 First gear (diesel only); an automatic five-speed Overdrive with a 3.00 First gear (gas engine only); an automatic four-speed with Overdrive, and a 2.45 First gear (diesel only).
If you're an old-school wheeler who believes an IFS 4x4 isn't a real truck, then you'll be pleased to note that the Rammer 2500 and 3500 4x4s are equipped with a solid front axle. Following the lead of the previous-generation Ram 1500, the straight axle is suspended by coil springs and moves through its travel positioned by a five-link system. The front suspension also includes an antisway bar and specially valved dampers, while the rear suspension - common to both 2WD and 4WD trucks - uses new, 3-inch longer leaf packs.